THE TIME OF DORO
Once upon a time….
Well, maybe not that long ago, but certainly before last month, I had just volunteered for the U.S. Air Force after high school. One of the first things we did during the first week was to take interest and aptitude tests that would largely determine who what we would be during our enlistment. Results would be revealed after training.
After the two months of basic training in the miserably hot June and July sun that baked Lackland AFB, near San Antonio, Texas, I was sent to The USAF Technical Training Command, at Keesler AFB, on the outskirts of Biloxi Mississippi.
I was, it seemed, going to be trained as an electronics maintenance technician with a specialty in radar systems.
I could not have been happier if they had just made me a General! I was in heaven! I had been interested in radios and electronics all through high school and was fascinated by anything that plugged in and had vacuum tubes inside. In fact, I would order military surplus radio equipment (WWII vintage, and dirt cheap), disassemble it for the parts, and use them to build elementary circuits I had found in electronics magazines. Some of them worked and the rest were “learning experiences.” I had a short wave radio on my work table and listened to Radio Berne, Radio Monrovia, the BBC, Radio Quito, and Radio Moscow while I tinkered, so I was not actually “at home” most of the time.
Anyway, I was as happy as a clam. The tech school was 52 weeks long, eight hours a day, with weekends off. P.T. in the mornings, drill on Saturday morning, formation marching to the classroom area and back to the barracks after class, so it was routine military; just that my main duty was to learn all about electronics. Just think: an entire year of classroom instruction on how things worked!
I began class on July 20, 1960.
Me on the left
The classes were highly focused on theory and practice, so we learned electronics basics and then about the various circuits used in most equipment. All long with the classroom instruction, and usually in two and three-man teams, we had hands-on practice building simple and then increasingly more sophisticated electronic circuitry as the weeks passed. When things did not work, we had to fix it so it met requirements. That was all timed, and it was serious business, so we learned to work under pressure and to focus on the job without even knowing that was part of the training.
I was a voracious keeper of notes in class and I studied them at night, unlike some of the dunderheads who thought other things were more important (drinking, girls, girls, and drinking).
I was having fun learning and it was not work at all. My tech manuals and class notes were treasures since I had had almost no access to the details they contained (being from a small town with a small public library and it being way before the Internet). I kept the notes and still have them...just because.
Once the basic skills were in-hand, we began studying and working on actual equipment. Once we learned the theory of operation, we learned alignment procedures using the manufacturer’s technical manuals. For our final exams on each study topic, the instructor would put a very real problem in the equipment and the two-man team had to find and repair it.
Imagine the fear factor the first time when the new technician turns on a device with twenty vacuum tubes and a mass of parts in it and it simply sits there inert, dark, and cold! The clock is running and there is a non-functioning device the size of a large suitcase that has something wrong!
So, you just fix it!
In December, 1960 – on the 14th - I started the field level of classes and had a lot more informal time to do the required projects in learning how some of the classified devices worked internally. It was designed to be more like a real-world experience would be and I loved that, too. I spent time learning how Moving Target Indicators (MTI) and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) units worked and how repair and align them. Each study unit would begin with a week of classroom instruction and the rest would be hands-on. Learning was from interpreting the the block diagrams and wiring diagrams; something that would have been an alien language five months before. There was an instructor present to answer questions, but it was mostly left to us to learn using the mental tools we had acquired. And learn I did! It was almost like an intellectual surfing experience and I thrived on it.
Because of that change in status, I had weekends off and was no longer treated like a new recruit. That also resulted in an unintentional change in life: I went home for a weekend with Tim, one of my classmates who lived in not-far-away, Bay Minette, Alabama.
Tim had a sister.
That is where stories and lives sort of fall apart at times, or at least get sidetracked. One first look at his “Baby Sis”, as he called her, and I was gobsmacked!
Admittedly, I was from a small town, without worldly experience, and the only girls I had met from foreign lands (those outside my little town) were my cousins. “Baby Sis” was clearly not one of the domestic products I had grown up with!
Doro (Dorothy) was was barely eighteen and was as curious about me as I was about her. Tim’s local girlfriend spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday with us and we mostly sat outdoors and talked, and everything was wonderful. Tim was no more eager to leave his Sandy any more than I wanted to part from Doro, and we made it back to the base Sunday night with fifteen minutes to spare!
We went back again the next weekend. Doro was dressed like a girl for a date and looked even more attractive than the previous week. We talked and talked while her soft Southern accent and gentle manner straight out of Gone With The Wind actually made me forget (briefly) her pretty face and the way the right side of her mouth made a slight twitch when she said some words. Needless to repeat, but I was captivated.
For the first time in months, electronics mattered not at all to me. I thought of her most of the time. The little twitch of her mouth was endlessly captivating
Back on the Base, the last four months of training was on real, live radar systems of various kinds set up in a large aircraft hanger. Those were long range search radar sets with giant rotating antennas and each made up of a dozen large metal cabinets filled with electronics. Every morning upon arriving for class, the complex assembly would be turned off and would have four or more faults introduced that we had to find and correct before the shift ended.
When “faults” are introduced by a technician-turned-instructor, you can be sure that they could be very obscure and would take a variety of test equipment, tech manuals, and brain cells to locate. I was pretty good at that, too. I had developed the attitude that if it broke, I could fix it. And I could, too!
It was fun! Right down to the last day of class, it had been more like a vacation than an actual job.
Almost every weekend after that first meeting was spent in Southern Alabama with Tim and his family. I went to church with them Sunday mornings, had Sunday dinners with them and, since I was mooching on the family so often, I washed the dishes while Doro dried, giving their Mom a break she was not accustomed to. I liked her parents a lot. Nice people, they were. I felt like I was with family.
Our routine was to have Saturday nights out. That meant the four of us going to the A&W Root Beer drive-in, getting take-out, and driving five miles out into a forest to a State Forestry Department fire watch tower: one of those very tall towers that are used to discover forest fire's location. There was a long dirt road through the forest to it and a well-maintained area around it. We could climb to a platform at the third level and have our picnic and enjoy the silence and the evening together. The curfew for the girls always came too soon.
As the weather warmed in the early spring, Tim, Sandy, Doro, and I went to Tim’s family’s beach house on the outskirts of Gulf Shores, on the narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. That was acceptable because Tim and his sister were there together, said their parents.
Doro and me
Little did they know that Tim was not reliable when Sandy was present, and that Doro had no intentions of being chaperoned anyway.
It was hot, even for early springtime and everything changed. The beach was beautiful, there was no moon, and there was a blue luminescence in the breaking waves that made the night a memorable marker in my life.
There was also Doro.
There is a country music song these days entitled Strawberry Wine. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it and it has become a soundtrack for that memory. Real tears; not just misty stuff. Real tears for the time of Doro when we were young and life was perfect and for a memory that remains still untold and untainted.
We had four weekends in Gulf Shores those last three months. Memories sweet like strawberry wine.
Tech school did not have a graduation ceremony of any sort. The last day was the last day. Friday. No fanfare; we just didn’t go back to class. I did get a signed document from the instructor certifying that I had met all course requirements. I stopped by the squadron Orderly Room and gave them to the Officer In Charge and he gave me the packet with my reassignment orders, travel papers and various other transfer documents that included a three week annual leave approval.
I had almost nothing to pack and Tim and I left for Bay Minette that afternoon for what would be our last weekend together. On Saturday, Doro and I went for a long walk, had lunch together in town, and sat in a small park and talked. Most of the time, her eyes were filled with tears. We never once talked about parting. It was something neither wanted to happen and was beyond words. Instead, we let the day be one of sadness, and an even more endearing closeness.
That night we left Tim at Sandy's house and parked at the A&W so we would have distractions to keep the sadness away. It was almost like waiting for a death.
On Sunday morning, Doro drove me down to Mobile to the bus station. We stood, embracing, and I could feel her quietly sobbing. We must have talked, but I don’t remember. All I do remember about those moments is her soft, Southern sweetness. Passion had been replaced by sorrow.
There had been no promises. She would be leaving home in a few weeks to begin a new life as a student at the University of Alabama. After my leave, I would be reporting to the Alaskan Air Command and going to a remote radar site overlooking the Yukon River in the middle of the state.
We knew summer had ended.
The images are mine.
- Losing Shirley
- Jules, Freddie and the Monkey Man
- The Foot
- Time to Move the Dial
- The Time Tree
- The Little Lake Without a Name I
- The Little Lake Without a Name II
- Dog Friends – Inza
- Dog Friends – Sara
- Dog Friends – Millie
- Philonous, Where Are You?